For every student who walks UT’s campus, there is a unique story behind his or her future goals and ambitions. Whether they want to follow in their parent’s footsteps, pursue something they have a passion for or set out and help others, dedication and commitment are key qualities for success. In the case of senior criminology major and Theta Chi brother Sal DeGaetano, dedicating himself to the future of his very own nonprofit organization in honor of his father is his destined future.
DeGaetano lost his father in 2013 to severe complications with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). In January 2014, he came up with the idea to start his own nonprofit organization in hopes to help others suffering from the nerve damaging disease. With the help of fellow Theta Chi brother and Director of Events for Sal Soldiers, Jason Burgess, they hosted the first Sal’s Soldiers date auction for a Valentine’s Day Theta Chi signature event in February of last year to fundraise and debut his organization.
At the time, Burgess was the special events chair for Theta Chi. He was with a brother brainstorming good activities to do for theme week and came up with the idea of the date auction. When thinking of where to donate the proceeds, the brothers thought it would be a good way to help out a non-profit started by someone close to them by donating the proceeds to Sal’s Soldier’s and funding start-up costs for the organization. Theta Chi and Sal’s Soldiers teamed up by putting together the initial dating auction and have been working with Sal ever since. The first auction raised $860.
This past Valentines Day, DeGaetano and Burgess put together another Theta Chi date auction where they auctioned off date options donated from local businesses that were interested in supporting Sal’s Soldiers organization. The highest bidders scored prizes such as couples jet ski date followed by a lunch at Whiskey Joe’s to a helicopter tour from Tampa Bay Aviation. This event successfully surpassed the last one, raising close to $4,000 in fundraising and more awareness for students on campus.
Also in attendance was Andrew Hall, a Regional Executive for External Affairs for AT&T, who is an acquaintance of DeGaetano and Burgess. Hall is a lobbyist who mostly works out of Tallahassee and is responsible for organizing donations and charity events for AT&T to help give back to communities. Showing great interest and respect for Sal’s vision and organization, Hall has assisted Sal in any way he can to guide the potential of Sal’s Soldiers to become a successful nonprofit in the Tampa Bay area.
“Nothing is promised yet, but Andrew and I have been discussing ways to get large companies like AT&T more involved in our cause,” DeGaetano said. “Hopefully this could help put Sal’s Soldiers in the same category of other large non-profits in the area.”
Hall has since helped DeGaetano network and gave him a vision of what he has in mind for Sal’s Soldiers after inviting him to the DeBartolo Family Foundation Banquet, a nonprofit charity dinner on Davis Island.
“It was incredible to see how everything was run so elegantly,” DeGaetano said, “He wanted to show me how a real nonprofit event was done right, and I can’t stop until Sal’s Soldiers has the same success.”
DeGaetano plans on residing in Tampa for the summer to stay and make sure his organization will continue to grow in this community and plans to start working on the coordination for his huge future auction. He hopes to land a job with a large nonprofit after graduating in May so that he can continue to learn how a successful nonprofit is managed.
In the meantime, DeGaetano and Burgess are currently planning a flag football tournament at Amalie Arena for UT student teams as their next big event. Their goal is to host this tournament on the AFL Tampa Bay Storm field on May 3, 2015.
“We’re doing our best to raise as much awareness as possible and hopefully, if it is at Amalie, we can put together some extra activities to make it an eventful day,” Burgess said. “Having the organization based off a college campus, we want to make creative events that will get college students involved and raise more awareness of what MS is.”
With all the fundraising in the works, don’t be fooled, the initial goal for Sal’s Soldiers is not to constantly fundraise, but to set out and help those in the community that have Multiple Sclerosis.
“We hope to use this money and volunteers to service those that have MS, maybe someone will need their light bulb changed or need to go to the grocery store,“ DeGaetano said, “It doesn’t matter what kind of help these patients need. Whether its manual labor or just emotional support, we want to be there to help. We want to keep it constant where the volunteer and person in need can be able to develop that one-on-one relationship.”
From wanting to get out there and help the community to also striving to bring Sal’s Soldiers to other college campuses, the partners indeed have set a solid foundation for the future success and growth of the organization.
“One of the main goals is to raise awareness on what MS is, so that it is something that they can carry with them.” Burgess said. “Not a lot of people know what Multiple Sclerosis is and what it really means. Our biggest thing is to make it as well known as something like cancer, because it affects about 400,000 people a year.”
Regina Gonzalez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org